Rev. D. K. Schroeder
I Peter 2:13-17 Sermon
July 3, 2004
HYMNS (from the Service Book and Hymnal):
360 "My Country 'tis of Thee"
346 "O Beautiful For Spacious Skies"
521 "God Of Our Fathers, Whose Almighty Hand"
356 "Mine Eyes Have Seen the Glory"
“GOD’S BLESSINGS THROUGH GOVERNMENT”
TEXT: “Submit yourselves for the Lord’s sake to every authority instituted among men: whether to the king, as the supreme authority, or to governors, who are sent by him to punish those who do wrong and to commend those who do right. For it is God’s will that by doing good you should silence the ignorant talk of foolish men. Live as free men, but do not use your freedom as a cover-up for evil; live as servants of God. Show proper respect to everyone; love the brotherhood of believers, fear God, honor the king.”
Perhaps you’re aware that there has been a huge convention in Lincoln for the past several days. From all over the Midwest, over 6,000 Jehovah’s Witnesses have been here attending one of their denomination’s conventions. The hotels in the city are full of these people.
I can tell you that these people have been respectful and nice. They’re honest and decent folks, good family people, and yes, good citizens. They would seem to fall right in line with how God expects his people to act in society. As hotel guests (I work part-time at a hotel), they don’t make any noise or act unruly. They keep their rooms nice, so it’s easy for the maids to go and clean them. I have had absolutely no problems with them.
In stark contrast, there is no comparison between these Jehovah’s Witnesses and some of the high school basketball, wrestling, and other kids that stay at the hotel. There’s noise complaints, unruly behavior, and trashed rooms. I’d take a hotel full of Jehovah’s Witnesses over high school basketball kids any day.
In our text for today, Peter gives us a few words about this. He says in verse 16, “Live as free men, but do not use your freedom as a cover-up for evil; live as servants of God.”
I would say that the Jehovah’s Witnesses live more as the “servants of God” that Peter is describing than the high school basketball kids. Even though there would be more actual Christians amongst the basketball kids than amongst the Jehovah’s Witnesses, yet the basketball kids use their freedom more for evil purposes than for the glory of God.
One of our employees was given a tract by one of the Jehovah’s Witness people, and I’d like to quote a paragraph from it: “Jehovah’s Witnesses are no part of Christendom. In fact, Christendom was founded nearly 300 years after Jesus’ death, and its beliefs have greatly deviated from what Jesus taught. For example, we do not accept Christendom’s belief in the Trinity, which teaches that Jesus is God himself. Nowhere do the Scriptures contain this blasphemous teaching. We do not use the cross as a symbol, nor do we employ statues in any way as part of our worship. These are all things that the Bible condemns.”
So with only one paragraph, the Jehovah’s Witnesses sweep away almost everything a Christian holds dear. To refute their paragraph, allow me to briefly respond. The book of Acts shows the transition between Old Testament Judaism and New Testament Christianity. This starts right after Christ’s ascension. Acts also records that the believers were first called Christians at Antioch; and this was not that many years after the time Christ was on this earth—certainly not the 300 or so years the Jehovah’s Witnesses claim. Biblical evidence also shows that Jesus was the promised Messiah of the Old Testament, and that he is indeed true God. In fact, Jesus was tried and put to death because he claimed to be God! Jesus showed himself to be God in so many ways. And the Trinity is also clearly stated, especially in the last chapter of Matthew where we are told to go and baptize and make disciples “in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.” I don’t think you could get much clearer than that.
You can see just how dangerous their false teaching is. And yet, they study their Bibles, and they outwardly appear like the best Christians on earth. But nothing could be further from the truth.
As I read that little pamphlet, the statements in there really made my milk curdle. I find their religious statements horrible, and their mission even worse. Those who profess what they do are heading down a one-way street to hell, and not for a life on “paradise earth” that they would have you believe.
As I thought about it a bit though, and as my initial distaste settled a little, I realize that tracts such as the one from the Jehovah’s Witnesses are something we can be thankful for—and no, I’m not crazy either. We can be thankful, because they have a right in this country to proclaim their religious message. That is their right, and they are protected by the constitution of the United States.
The right that they have is the right that we have too. We have the right to organize a congregation. We have the right to assemble for worship. We have the right to read and teach the Bible. We have the right to proclaim our faith verbally, in print, and even over the internet. And we also have the right to publicly take the statements made by Jehovah’s Witnesses and refute them (that’s the nice way of calling them complete and utter garbage). That’s one of the blessings of freedom that we enjoy in this country.
In our text for today, in verses 13 and 14, Peter talks about the importance of civil obedience amongst Christians, and the duty of the government to punish those who do wrong. We read, “Submit yourselves for the Lord’s sake to every authority instituted among men: whether to the king, as the supreme authority, or to governors, who are sent by him to punish those who do wrong and to commend those who do right.”
Freedom is great, but there are rules which we have to obey; if we don’t, then we have to bear the consequences.
How often have we not obeyed those God has placed in authority over us? Have we ever disobeyed our parents and been punished? Have we ever acted up in school, and got detention because of it? Have we ever broken the law and received a ticket—even for overtime parking? Have we ever over-stepped the boundaries of freedom?
I’m sure it’s happened to all of us, and probably more times than we’d like to admit. We’ve had to pay the price according to the government, or according to our parents, or whoever is enforcing the rules.
But there is a double-prong here. When we break those earthly rules, we are also sinning against God. God has established those earthly authorities; so to go against them is to violate what God has commanded.
It’s here that Peter reminds us to live as “free men,” which is to live in freedom. The type of freedom he’s talking about here is not the “hurray for the red-white-and blue, stars and stripes forever” type of freedom. He’s talking about the freedom which comes through the Gospel of Christ.
Here we are, lawbreakers of both society’s laws and God’s laws. We stand before the throne of the almighty, and we are guilty as charged. But then comes the good news, the news of our freedom. Christ has taken our many sins and put them upon himself. He has taken our guilt and our wrongs, and he was punished for them. He suffered all this for us, so that we could live as the “free men” that Peter describes. Free men (women and children too) who have been declared innocent by virtue of what Christ did.
Faith is the important thing here. We must have faith in Jesus our Saviour for his righteousness to be ours before God. To receive the benefit of God’s forgiveness, we must believe that Jesus is indeed true God, the Messiah promised in the Old Testament, and also true Man, born of a virgin, and born under the law. This is our Saviour, and it is through him we receive the freedom Peter describes.
Earlier I talked about this exemplary lifestyle exhibited by the Jehovah’s Witnesses. Even though the lifestyle might be good and right, the theology behind it is all wrong. Their reason for doing good works and being law abiding people is out of pure obedience and trying to gain God’s favor by doing good works. For them and their theology, there is no Gospel of forgiveness, no Jesus who suffered and died to take away their sins, and no promise of heaven. All they can really hope for is that they’ve done enough good works to merit an eternity on their idea of “paradise earth.”
When I think of the founders of Jehovah’s Witnesses, Judge Rutherford and Charles Tays Russell, I wonder what God had in store for them, for leading so many people down their soul-destructive path. I shudder to imagine.
But here we are, living as “free men.” We have the freedom to serve God out of love for him, out of thanks for what Jesus has done for us. We are free from any “divine score card” or threat of divine punishment. In Christ, we are indeed forgiven and free before God.
Independence Day is a time when we celebrate our freedom as a nation. For us, as Christians, our freedom is a double blessing. We can serve our Lord, free from any government control, and free from the threat of divine punishment.
When we break those rules and regulations here on earth, we still have to bear the punishment which those in authority meet out. They don’t automatically go away because we are Christians. Mom and dad’s punishment still stands, we still get detention, we still have to pay that ticket, and people will still have to do jail time. Earthly punishment still exists, and God sanctifies that.
Thankfully though, there are no eternal consequences. That’s something we can be sure of, and be truly grateful for.
So as we go forth into the world, into this free land of ours, let’s do so as servants of God who serve him out of love. In verse 17 of our text, Peter says we do this by: “[Showing] proper respect to everyone, [loving] the brotherhood of believers, [fearing] God, and [honoring] the king (that is, honoring those in authority over us.)
Have a safe and blessed 4th.